In the locker room after yesterday's 25-0 shutout of the Ravens, the calm demeanor and sleepy eyes of Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber belied the man whose eye-popping acrobatics and defensive wizardry had just played a major role in thwarting Baltimore's passing game.
And yesterday, Barber's performance was worthy of any highlight reel.
Twice during a Ravens drive in the fourth quarter, Barber made remarkable stops. The Ravens had a first-and-10 at their 43 when Barber out-leaped taller receiver Travis Taylor to knock down a long pass that could have gone for a touchdown.
For the day, Barber repeatedly foiled the efforts of larger foes such as 6-5, 252-pound Ravens tight end Todd Heap, 6-1, 210-pound Taylor and 5-11, 197-pound Stokley, who combined for only 95 yards on nine receptions.
The University of Virginia graduate finished with a game-high six pass deflections and ranked fourth on the Buccaneers in tackles with five.
"I'm seeing the ball, and I work on that all the time. I'm in position to make a lot of the plays, which I think is more important than making the plays sometimes," said Barber, a six-year veteran whose twin brother, Tiki Barber, is a running back for the New York Giants. "I pride myself a lot on being in position to have the opportunity to make the play, and I think that showed today."
Barber made his presence known on the second down of the Ravens' initial possession. Baltimore had the ball on its 37 when he materialized in front of a short pass, nearly intercepting a ball intended for Heap near the Tampa Bay sideline. Two plays later, the Ravens were forced to punt from that spot.
On the second down of the Ravens' second possession, Barber was there again. Baltimore was at its 7-yard line when a diving Barber swatted out of bounds a waist-high pass intended for Stokley near the Ravens' sideline. Stokley was overthrown on the ensuing play, and the Ravens, yet again, punted without moving forward.
Barber also made a block that helped to spring punt return specialist Karl Williams for a 56-yard scoring return.
"Not only does he cover people, but he makes some physical tackles from the corner. He's a physical guy," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. "Ronde is a Pro Bowl cornerback and we're proud of him. To me, he is on the cutting edge of becoming one of the best defenders in the league at that position."